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Gratitude is one of the most important things you can teach young children as a parent. It helps cultivate a sense of empathy and understanding, and it's been proven to raise happier children. Instead of saying just a simple "thank you".
Saying "thank you", putting in the simple effort to help others, and even just smiling at a stranger holding a door open - if you know where to look, gratitude is a virtue that can be found all around us. It's everywhere in the tiny day-to-day things, and it's what a lot of our actions and habits are built around without even realizing. When it comes to the most important things to teach young children, gratitude ranks among the best of them as an example of a quality that builds empathy, instills kindness, and guides children towards a both a healthier and happier way of living.
Children are naturally caring and affectionate at heart. It's just up to us as parents to nurture those parts of them so they know how to keep them well into adulthood. When we tell children to say "thank you" when others do something nice for them, we aren't just teaching them a two-word phrase. We're also showing them what gratitude is. We're allowing them to learn the value in being thankful, and we're giving them the means to practice it themselves so that they can view the world through a bright positive lens.
And that, of course, is the reason why gratitude is so important in the first place. But how do you start teaching your children the importance of gratitude, especially when they're so young and impressionable? It's not something you can do in a day or even a week, but if you're willing to put in the effort as a parent, there are many good places to start.
Practicing gratitude begins with understanding what it is, first and foremost. When asked if they know what "thank you" means, every child will answer with a resounding "yes." But knowing why "thank you" is said and how best to express it is an entirely different story altogether - and also a bit tricker for young minds to learn.
Try asking your child to picture a time when they were truly thankful for something. It doesn't matter whether it was receiving their favourite video game on Christmas or getting to eat some well-deserved ice cream after a stellar report card! When they remember that feeling of gratitude and the happiness it inspired in them, ask them to hold onto that. Explain that the special feeling they experienced then is what the meaning of "thank you" is all about, and that their goal is to pass it on to the others in their life as well.
Teaching gratitude to children is important because it lets them build empathy, optimism, and self-esteem. It gives them the sense of being supported and cared for, and it makes them feel powerful when they can transfer that feeling to the people they care about in their lives. Research has shown that gratitude raises healthier, happier children who are less likely to lose willpower in the face of stress or negativity, and it opens up a world of loving bonds and meaningful relationships that help nourish both the mind and body.
So with that being said, here are 8 crucial tips to help you in your journey towards teaching and practicing gratitude with your children, so that you and your family can work together to maintain that much-needed positivity in your lives.
How to be polite to people is the first thing every child should learn, and ensuring that yours has a good grasp on the most basic manners is a great way to start teaching them gratitude. Let them know to say "please" and "thank you" when someone does anything for them, whether it be Grandma making them breakfast in the morning or a cashier handing an ice cream cone over the counter.
Most of all, teach them to treat friends, family, and strangers alike with the same kindness they'd want to be treated with, but also allow them to interact with people in the unique, special way that fits their own personality! This is the first step towards learning to be thankful in the ways that matter.
Saying "thank you" is all good and well, but there are many, many more ways to really show that you're thankful through your actions, and children should be taught to know how to do so. Next time a family member cooks a delicious meal or sends over a birthday present, why not encourage your child to make them a thank-you card or create a DIY gift of their very own in return?
This teaches them to express their gratitude through more than just words and also lets them build meaningful connections on the side. Thanking people through actions doesn't have to take major effort every time, either - a hug, a big smile, or a little favour in return can be more than enough.
For your child to be able to express thanks in a way that they really mean, it's also crucial for them to understand why the things other people do for them deserve their gratitude. The one thing you should avoid teaching your child is taking things for granted, no matter how small they may seem at first glance.
Efforts like the ones you and your family put in for them - like making dinner, driving them to the playground, or buying them the things they need - should receive acknowledgement and appreciation in response, and so should the things even complete strangers do, like a bus driver dropping them off at their stop or a fast food worker getting their meal ready. By recognizing the efforts of others on a daily basis, children can get used to applying gratitude to their lives.
Kindness is a big part of showing gratitude. Without the care and consideration that good people skills can grant you, it's difficult to understand why regularly giving thanks is so important. One great thing about this is that empathy is a quality should be taught at a young age anyway - so when you tell your child to treat others how they'd like to be treated themselves, you're also teaching them that it comes hand-in-hand with appreciating what others do!
If you have the time and are willing to put in the effort, you can try taking children to volunteer for some kid-friendly charities, offer to help neighbours with their yard chores, or even just do simple things like pick up garbage in their favourite local park. This will allow your child to understand the value of kindness and the meaning behind practicing gratitude.
Keeping a journal is one of the best activities a young child can do to learn creativity, responsibility, and self-expression, and one specifically dedicated to practicing gratitude is no exception. Encourage your child to start keeping track of the things in their life that they're grateful for - it can be something as small as "it was a sunny day today," or something as big as "my dad always does his best to keep me happy."
Whatever they write down, it'll be a great way to teach them to process their thoughts and feelings into words and begin a habit of incorporating gratitude into their everyday lives. The journal can be a source of both comfort and motivation as well as routine and stability. Don't forget to make use of it.
Children learn best from their parents, first and foremost, so of course it's crucial for you to set a good example when you want to teach them something like gratitude. By showing your children what you want them to learn by practicing it yourself, you can give them the support and guidance they need to motivate them into trying their best.
It goes without saying, but make sure to return any gratitude your child shows you to them as well! When they wash the dishes or volunteer to walk the dog, say "I'm thankful for the help you give us." Remind your child that you love and cherish their presence in your life and that you're grateful for it every day. This way, they'll gradually learn how best to return the sentiment themselves.
There's no need to wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas to get into doing good things for the people around you. Helping others in need is an amazing way to spread love and practice kindness, and it's an even better way of teaching gratitude to children, because it lets them show understanding and empathy through acts that both build their character and make them feel better about themselves.
"The spirit of giving" is a pretty broad term, so don't be afraid to define it however you'd like when it comes to teaching it to your children. Getting their teachers small gifts to show appreciation, offering extra change to homeless people in need, or making a special breakfast for a beloved family member are all wonderful ideas to teach your child to give back to others.
Since gratitude is such an important thing to practice, you don't have to stop at just teaching it to your children either! Expressing and showing thanks for the little things in life can be a bonding activity for the whole family. Getting together to practice gratitude not only fosters healthy communication, it also helps grows strong, loving relationships with all the important people around you and your children.
After a nice dinner at the end of the day, encourage everyone to gather around the table and share the things that they're grateful for. Or you can do it right in the morning before leaving for school and work - whatever works best for you. It's just like keeping a journal, but for the whole family instead. Remember to be sincere, honest, and cultivate a safe and comfortable environment for not only your children, but also yourself.
Gratitude doesn't just stop at the individual. It begins and ends with the people around you, so make sure your child knows to always acknowledge, appreciate, and express their thanks to others. That includes you as well!